From journeying and uncertainty, we move to the familiar and comforting.
In Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Ratty and Mole return home in the evening from a December outing with Otter, passing through a village where the interior of cottages can be glimpsed as pictures through lit windows, they trot on to through the cold and dark when Mole is suddenly transfixed, as if by an electric shock. The shock is the recognition, through a kind of sixth sense, that his home is near; the home he left some time back to live with Ratty by the riverbank.
Ratty is all for carrying on as snow is coming, and returning the next day to find Mole’s home, but Mole, having felt the call of the home he has all but forgotten, is so distressed – “I know it’s a – shabby, dingy little place . . . but it was my own little home and I was fond of it . . . and I wanted it,” that Ratty, a kindly soul, goes back to look for the house. Of course, when found, it is dusty and cheerless, and Mole weeps again, but Ratty begins to light lamps and restore some cheerfulness and, when all is looking better and some food discovered, they hear the tiny voices of the field-mice, preparing to sing carols outside the door. Christmas warmth, peace and joy enter with the carolling mice.
Sometimes we need the familiar. Most of the time we can debate the meaning of Bible passages; try to persuade that there is nothing in the Bible that says here were three kings, or an innkeeper – or even a donkey, for that matter – but then suddenly, it doesn’t actually seem to matter. The familiar telling of the Nativity story wraps us in its warmth, like a friend putting a warm coat around us when we’re chilled and we feel, rather than reason out, the love that undergirds it all. There are times for arguing the theological point, but there are also times for showing the hospitality and acceptance of the other that paves the way to share the Gospel.
And home can feel precious, yes, even when you live alone. It’s very easy to believe that, if you’re alone at Christmas, there is something wrong: television is full of advertisements showing big families celebrating together; eating around a table without any of the young people glued to their phones and i-pads. Goodness me, can this be true? Well – possible, maybe, but highly unlikely. You’ve put up decorations, have your favourite food and drink prepared, and it can be good just to sit and look around and enjoy it all; to welcome visitors when they call, as visitors were welcomed by Mary and Joseph.
Take time to look around and appreciate the blessing with which we have each of us been gifted, wherever and whoever you are.